|ᓂᐙᐱᐦᑖᓐ ᐊᔥᑐᑎᓐ᙮||niwaapihtaan ashtutin.||I see a hat.|
|ᐙᐱᐦᑎᒻ ᐊᔥᑐᑎᓂᔫ᙮||waapihtim ashtutiniyuu.||She sees a hat.|
Notice the suffix -iyuu on ᐊᔥᑐᑎᓂᔫ ashtutiniyuu. It is called OBVIATIVE. Obviative inflection happens when there are several third persons in a story. For example, a child and a hat or a frog.
|ᒌ ᐧᐋᐱᒫᐤ ᐄᔨᒃᐦ ᐊᓐ ᐊᐧᐋᔑᔥ᙮||chii waapimaau iiyikh an awaashish.||This child saw a frog/frogs.|
|ᐧᐋᐱᐦᑎᒻ ᐊᔥᑐᑎᓂᔫ ᐊᓐ ᐊᐧᐋᔑᔥ᙮||waapihtim ashtutiniyuu an awaashish.||This child sees a hat.|
The form ᐊᐧᐋᔑᔥ awaashish is called PROXIMATE, ᐄᔨᒃᐦ iiyikh and ᐊᔥᑐᑎᓂᔫ ashtutiniyuu are called OBVIATIVE.
For animate nouns, the obviative suffix is -h, like in ᐄᔨᒃᐦ iiyikh above. The number distinction is over-ridden. -h could mean one or many frogs.
For inanimate nouns, the obviative singular has a special suffix -iyuu. The obviative plural looks just like the proximate plural.
Because of the rule of obviation, a noun possessed by a third person carries the obviative marking.
Obviation plays an important role in Cree, not just for nouns, and pronouns but also for verbs forms. It allows speakers to rank the importance of participants in a story in ways that are impossible to convey in English. The rule is that you can only have one proximate person or thing at a time in a story, all others must be marked obviative.
The proximate-obviative contrast works like a spotlight on the story participants. The spotlight is the proximate and it can only shine on one person or one group at a time, all the other story participants end up in the obviative. [see story analysis]
This is how the proximate and obviative look in sentences.
|Animate||ᓂᐙᐱᒫᐤ ᐄᔨᒃ᙮||ᓂᐙᐱᒫᐎᒡ ᐄᔨᑭᒡ᙮||ᐙᐱᒫᐤ ᐄᔨᒃᐦ᙮||ᐙᐱᒫᐤ ᐄᔨᒃᐦ᙮|
|niwaapimaau iiyik.||niwaapimaawich iiyikich.||waapimaau iiyikh.||waapimaau iiyikh.|
|I see a frog.||I see frogs.||She sees a frog.||She sees frogs.|
|Inanimate||ᓂᐙᐱᐦᑖᓐ ᐊᔥᑐᑎᓐ᙮||ᓂᐙᐱᐦᑖᓐ ᐊᔥᑐᑎᓐᐦ᙮||ᐙᐱᐦᑎᒻ ᐊᔥᑐᑎᓂᔫ᙮||ᐙᐱᐦᑎᒻ ᐊᔥᑐᑎᓐᐦ᙮|
|niwaapihtaan ashtutin.||niwaapihtaan ashtutinh.||waapihtim ashtutiniyuu.||waapihtim ashtutinh.|
|I see a hat.||I see hats.||She sees a hat.||She sees hats.|